For an agency that claims to have "zero tolerance" for criminal behavior, TSA agents sure spend a lot of time declaring their guilt.
I was reminded of that unfortunate fact a few days ago after a screener reportedly faced accusations of stealing $5,000 from a passenger's jacket as he was going through security at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The agent, Alexandra Schmid, hasn't confessed yet even though officials have it all on videotape. But a closer look at the TSA's rap sheet reveals that often, employees accused of crimes simply roll over and play dead when someone points a finger at them.
Take Coumar Persad and Davon Webb, accused of swiping $40,000 from a piece of luggage in January 2011. They were charged with grand larceny, obstructing governmental administration and official misconduct. Last month, they pleaded guilty and were sentenced to six months in jail and five years' probation.
Speaking of theft, how about the TSA supervisor and screener accused of taking between $10,000 and $30,000 from luggage at Newark Liberty International Airport. A federal judge sentenced the supervisor, Michael Arato, to 2 1/2 years in prison and his subordinate, Al Raimi, to six months of home confinement, after both pleaded guilty.
Or Randy Pepper, the TSA supervisor who worked at Seattle-Tacoma, an airport with what many passengers would argue has the worst TSA workforce in the country?
Pepper in 2010 confessed to removing money and jewelry from the luggage he was inspecting, including sterling silver necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings. Few of the items were recovered; most were melted down for the gold or silver content, according to the Justice Department.
And it's not just theft.
How about drugs? Here"s a doozy of a drug trafficking case that involves a conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana and money laundering.
It also involves Minnetta Walker, a Behavioral Detection Officer employed by the TSA. Walker assisted the bad guys in bypassing the normal security procedures, measures and requirements at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, according to the FBI.
Oh yeah, that's according to him, too -- he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and was sentenced to 24 months in prison last month.
Minneapolis TSA agent George Thompson pleaded guilty in federal court to assaulting an 83-year-old Somali man in 2010, a federal hate crime, according to the Department of Justice.
During the plea hearing, Thompson was said to have targeted the elderly man because he had a red beard, which caused him to believe that the victim was a Muslim and an African immigrant. During the assault, Thompson yelled that the victim should "go back to Africa." Thompson admitted that he assaulted the man solely because the victim was Muslim and Somali.
Child pornography, anyone? Andrew Cheever of Lowell, Mass., admitted to it in December. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to having thousands of child pornography images and videos on his home computers. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Why not fight the charges? TSA critics have long charged that agents who confess are let off with a slap on the wrist, and looking at some of these sentences, it's easy to agree with them.
Oh, I know what you're thinking -- this is so unfair. I'm cherrypicking and drawing attention to a few bad apples, to mix my fruit metaphors. But some have argued that the crime rate among TSA agents is higher than the general population, and even higher than a comparable law enforcement agency. (Except that the TSA has no law enforcement authority.)
But these guilty pleas raise a bigger question. Given the well-documented criminal element within the TSA, it kinda makes you wonder -- who needs protection from whom?
Are the jihadists who allegedly want to bring down another plane a greater danger than the agency charged with protecting America's transportation systems?
Think about it. How many crimes again airline passengers have terrorists committed in the last decade?
What's that? None?
TSA agents, on the other hand -- and by their own admission -- have assaulted, stolen, trafficked drugs and downloaded child pornography.
Maybe we don't need to be protected from the terrorists. Maybe we need protection from the TSA.